The Stolen Chapters: Story Thieves, Book 2

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
The Stolen Chapters: Story Thieves, Book 2 Book Poster Image
Worlds collide as the kids land in Sherlock Holmes mystery.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

A major plot thread deals with fictional detective Sherlock Holmes -- especially the fateful consequences of Story Thieves characters landing in a Holmes story at a critical moment. Mystery fiction, its characters, problems, and story conventions, like the Locked Room Murder Mystery, are all part of the world-building.

Positive Messages

Strong messages about perseverance, friendship, sticking together, and helping each other out -- no matter how weird things get. Do your best to do the right thing, even when you're not entirely sure what's going on or what the plan might be.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Dauntless, quick-thinking Bethany is a real star here, trying to escape a would-be murderer while not ditching her friends and keeping to her quest to find her father. And when she does the wrong thing with the best intentions, she owns up to it and tries to make things right. Also great is onetime ordinary kid Owen, confronting numerous perils, unexpected plot twists, and quick-changing realities. He's a good friend and a brave companion, as well as a good problem-solver. A parade of "fictional" characters, from EarthGirl to kid bandit Moira Gonzalez, are there to help out when other "fictional" characters are villainous.

Violence & Scariness

For much of the story, a character is trapped in a locked room with the water rising. A villain burns down the library where a character's mom works and frames him for it. Cartoonish, science-fiction-y violence, such as one fictional universe where Earth was destroyed many years ago and only one girl survived, à la Superman.

Language

In a scene where the kids are all cartoon characters, Bethany says, "Turn us back already, would you? The last thing I want to do is figure out how to go to the bathroom like this." A few references to butts and wondering aloud why fictional characters are never seen going to the bathroom.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Stolen Chapters is the second installment in James Riley's wacky Story Thieves series, featuring tweens jumping in and out of fictional book worlds and getting into all kinds of trouble. In this case, it's the world of mystery novels, as a descendant of Sherlock Holmes seeks revenge on our heroes, a character finds herself about to be murdered in a locked room, another is framed for burning down his mother's library, and a cop's daughter chooses a life of crime. "Fictional" and "real" worlds collide, characters spend a lot of time worrying about being products of someone else's imagination, and the narrator wonders whether the author actually exists. Several kids have lost a parent, and one's determination to find her father is important to the plot. A cliffhanger ending sets up Book 3, Secret Origins.

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What's the story?

THE STOLEN CHAPTERS -- nine of 'em, each page heavily blacked out, open the book -- hold the key to why, in the wake of Book 1's events, young Owen, Bethany, and Kiel aren't going peaceably about their middle school business. We have no idea why Owen and Kiel suddenly wake up in the library where Owen's mom works -- just before a villain from the fictional world sets fire to it and frames them. Or how Bethany managed to get chained to a chair in a sealed room with the water rising. Or quite a few other things. Neither, as it turns out, do they. Aided by random flashbacks, our heroes try to piece together how they got into this fix -- and, more to the point, how to get out of it. Also, how to help Bethany find her long-lost father.

Is it any good?

This sequel's ever-surprising plot, wacky-and-a-bit-dark humor, and relatable worries of the tween characters will please Book 1's fans and recruit lots of new ones for the Story Thieves series. On any page of this wild tale you'll find alien planets, cartoon criminals, a deranged descendant of Sherlock Holmes, or an angsty discussion about being the product of someone else's imagination. And that's just the beginning, as author "James Riley" tries to stir up confusion about whether he exists, confronts kids with their fictional selves, and more. Not every reader is going to have the patience for The Stolen Chapters' sheer looniness, but those who do will be thoroughly entertained.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about stories where kids from our world travel to the worlds of books, as they do in Story Thieves. What other examples do you know? Why do you think people like these stories?

  • If you could take characters from one book and put them in another, which ones would you pick? How do you think that might change the story?

  • How do you think one of the book characters you like would feel if he or she suddenly landed in our world, like Kiel does in this series?

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